Superheroes and secret identities go hand-in-hand. Alter-egos allow costumed heroes to protect their civilian personas, shield their loved ones from the wrath of vengeful enemies and operate without legal ramifications.
Of course, juggling separate identities is tough work. The pressure to maintain a sense of self while parading around in a costume must be daunting, so it's no surprise that occasionally a hero might get a little carried away.
Sometimes this manifests itself as a desire to adopt a new persona. Sometimes it is a warning sign to something much more serious. Other times it is a result of writers trying to shake things up (aka increase sales). Either way you slice it, the following fifteen comic book superheroes have suffered from some serious identity crises.
15 Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince, Part Time Private Eye, Full Time Martial Arts Enthusiast
It really is amazing that even with a penchant for bondage, Wonder Woman is still one of the most recognizable superheroes in comic book history. The Amazonian princess has been fighting crime with her lasso and invisible jet for over seventy years, all while becoming a feminist icon.
Although Wonder Woman has been in publication since the 40s, occasionally the “creatives” over at DC would get bored of her tried and true persona and try something different, which is how we got the depowered kung-fu fighting private eye.
In Wonder Woman Vol. 1 #179 from 1968, Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman’s boo, gets into some hot water, and Wonder Woman needs to save her man from certain doom. Unfortunately the Amazons are travelling to another dimension in order to recharge their batteries, and tell Wonder Woman that she must come with them or she will lose all of her powers.
Love conquers all and Wonder Woman decides to stay to save the man she loves at the cost of her superpowers and star-spangled costume. Luckily, Wonder Woman meets a blind guy name I-Ching who teaches her kung fu. She quickly goes back to her crime fighting ways by setting up a private detective agency and karate chop action. Steve still dies though. Also, this lasted for five years. With any luck, we won't see this incarnation of the Amazonian princess in her upcoming movie.
14 Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier aka Captain America
We all know that Bucky Barnes was Captain America’s best friend and loyal sidekick, that is until his untimely death during World War II. Bucky seemed to be one of the rare comic book characters that died and stayed dead, until it was discovered that Bucky was a covert Hydra operative known as The Winter Soldier.
To be fair, Hydra had wiped Bucky’s memories and brainwashed him into a super efficient killing machine, complete with a shiny robot arm to replace the one he’d lost when he, uh, died.
Despite being retroactively responsible for all sorts of awful things in the Marvel universe, Bucky has since had his memories restored and is once again fighting on the side of good. His personality is a bit edgier, as he is more than willing to blur the line between good and bad, as evidenced by the fact that he packs heat while wielding the Captain America shield.
13 Spider-Man aka Prodigy aka Dusk aka Hornet aka Ricochet
In 1998, Norman Osborne and Trapster framed Spider-Man for murder. With the public outraged and out for blood, Peter Parker hangs up the red and blue tights, deciding to wait for the storm to blow over. Parker finds that he can’t just sit back and relax while criminals are running amok, so he decides to come up with a new persona that would allow him to continue avoiding the responsibilities of his real life, like spending time with his stunning redhead of a wife.
Parker reasons that the appearance of a new hero with spider-like powers showing up immediately after Spider-Man had inexplicably disappeared would raise more than a few eyebrows. To remedy this problem, Parker comes up with four different identities known as Prodigy, Dusk, Ricochet and Hornet. All of these alter egos are fairly lame, especially Ricochet, since Parker decided to emblazon the costume with pieces of flair for some reason. Against all odds, the people of New York seem to totally forget about Spider-Man with the emergence of these low rent facsimiles. Eventually Parker is able to clear his name and subsequently resumes the mantle of Spider-Man.
Later on a group of teenagers adopt the Prodigy, Dusk, Ricochet and Hornet personas in the short lived book Slingers. Short lived because the only people praising these new characters were the fictional New Yorkers inside the pages of the book.
12 Superman aka Gangbuster
Forget about the four “Supermen” that showed up after Superman kind of died at the hands of Doomsday. Pretend the black leotard never existed (even though Supes’ hair was glorious). The less said about the split personality disorder that birthed the red and blue electric Superman(s), the better.
In the 1980s, however, the squeaky clean Superman was at a loss for how to deal with the gritty crime that was besieging the nation at the time. To make matters worse, a confrontation with Brainiac resulted in a psychotic break that caused Clark Kent to adopt the Gangbuster persona, who was just some guy who was tried of crime in Metropolis and decided to rip off Daredevil.
The original Gangbuster was a man named Jose Delgado, who was rendered paraplegic after saving Lois Lane from The Combattor. While in the hospital, Delgado heard reports that Gangbuster was living up to his namesake, although tjis Gangbuster was cracking skulls with much more violent methods.
As it turns out, ol’ Clarky was totally unaware of his exploits as Gangbuster. We’re told the mental breakdown he suffered triggered a sort of selective amnesia, so in addition to a weakness to Kryptonite, the man of steel suffers from mental health issues - just like ¼ of Americans.
11 Cyclops aka Erik the Red
In X-Men Vol. 1 #51 from 1968, the X-Men face off against Mesmero and Magneto (who is actually a robot pretending to be Magneto, but that’s not important), in a bid to free their friend and B squad X-Man Lorna Dane.
The X-Men are defeated but manage to escape, left to lick their wounds. Later on, a mysterious new super villain calling himself Erik the Red appears and starts causing a ruckus in an effort to get the attention of Mesmero and Magneto. Despite wearing a costume that makes him appear like an S&M leather fetishist, Erik the Red is brought before Mesmero and Magneto and in a sort of trial by combat, proves his worth by laying waste to their henchmen using powerful energy blasts emitted from his hands.
Erik the Red turns out to be Cyclops letting his freak flag fly in red pleather in a convoluted attempt to engage in the subterfuge of Mesmero and Magneto from within. Erik the Red’s helmet transfer the optic blasts from Cyclop’s eyes down into his gloves. Why Cyclops wasn’t able to defeat Mesmero and Magneto the first time around when he could easily best them as Erik the Red leads us to believe he just really wanted to get into that skin tight leather.
10 Hawkeye aka Goliath aka Ronin
While we have to give props to the one dude in the MCU’s version of the Avengers who has the courage to fight invading aliens with just a bow and arrow, we have to question his usefulness in the company of a giant green rage monster and an ego-maniac in a suit of armor packing more firepower than your average terrorist cell. In the comics, Hawkeye is legitimately useful, however even he has considered ditching the archery equipment.
As Goliath, Clint Barton used some of Hank Pym’s size changing gas and got really big, hence the name. After he realizes that his skills aren’t intrinsically improved with his physical size, he went back to archery, albeit with a purple miniskirt costume that left very little to the imagination.
Barton left the Hawkeye persona behind once again after the events of Civil War. Presumed dead and reeling from the death of Steve Rogers, Barton masquerades as the nunchuck wielding Ronin, although to be fair, someone else was already slinging arrows in the Young Avengers at the time.
9 Thunderbolts aka Masters of Evil
The Thunderbolts were a team of superheroes that appeared shortly after the destruction of The Avengers and The Fantastic Four at the hands of Onslaught in 1996. The team pledged to protect the world in the absence of the Avengers, but in actuality, The Thunderbolts were the villainous Masters of Evil masquerading as heroes.
Initially brought together by Baron Zemo, the supervillains were about to attack the Avengers when they were struck down by Onslaught. After the death of the Avengers and FF, Zemo realized that the world would need superpowered heroes, and that he and his rag-tag team of villains could fill that void.
Of course these baddies didn’t flip a switch and suddenly become altruistic; instead, The Masters of Evil lived up to their namesake and reasoned that by pretending to be heroes, they could gain the public trust and eventually subvert organizations like SHIELD. With no heroes to stop them and the world reeling from the events of the Onslaught crossover, they figured that they could easily gain control of the world.
This twist (which was revealed at the end of Thunderbolts #1 in 1997), is considered one of the best in comic book history, although Zemo’s plans would ultimately be foiled by his own team, who had developed a conscience.
8 Dr. Bruce Banner aka The Hulk aka Joe Fixit aka Professor Hulk
Poor Bruce Banner. The guy was just trying to do the right thing and accidentally doused himself with gamma radiation that should have killed him. Instead it turned him into a giant rage monster that obsessively smashes everything in sight. Over the years Banner has struggled with this side of himself, and has tried numerous methods in his effort to control the beast that dwells inside of him. This has resulted in Banner developing dissociative identity disorder, or as it is more commonly known, multiple personality disorder. These different identities all manifest themselves as different incarnations of the Hulk, which we’ve outlined in a handy guide below:
- Green/Savage Hulk – this is the most well known version of the Hulk. This form has a child like intellect, and his powers increase the angrier he gets.
- Grey Hulk/Joe Fixit – This version is smaller and not quite as strong, but Joe Fixit retains an average level of human intelligence. His ability to reason limits his ability to grow in size and strength. He is also kind of a jerk.
- Professor Hulk – Banner’s genius and Hulk’s strength come together in what seems like the best of both worlds. Except for the fact that getting angry makes him revert back into a normal human. This form also made many of us wonder just where the Hulk bought his clothes, we don’t care how obese America is, there is no way he bought those threads off the rack!
7 Professor Charles Xavier aka Onslaught
Professor Charles Xavier is often viewed as the altruistic, bald headed analogy to Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor X and his X-Men have dedicated their lives as champions of mutant rights, while fighting to protect all of humanity. While Professor X seems like a pretty stand up guy (get it?) if we start flipping through the massive tomes of X-Men lore, we start to get the idea that Professor X might be a bit…off.
Professor X has sent a number of his students to their certain deaths. He has something called the “Xavier Protocols”, which explains, in detail, how to kill each and every one of the X-Men (although to be fair, he also details how he could be killed) in case they ever get too unruly. He’s also admitted to be a bit pervy when it comes to certain red headed students.
The worst offense that Professor X has committed, numerous times by the way, is his tendency to use his powers to literally wipe people's minds. When Charlie wiped Magneto's mind to caused Magneto's rage to manifest itself within Professor X's psyche, where it combined with all of Professor X's latent frustration and anger (see creepy infatuation above) to produce Onslaught, a powerful entity that was (sort of) responsible for the deaths of some of the Marvel universe's greatest heroes.
6 Hank Pym aka Ant-Man aka Goliath aka Giant Man aka Yellowjacket aka Wasp
Hank Pym is a genius who discovers the sub-atomic “Pym particles” that allow him to increase or decrease the mass of himself or inanimate objects. After using himself as a guinea pig, Pym becomes one of the founding members of the Avengers as Ant-Man.
Pym continues to experiment with his Pym particles, resulting in adopting the alter ego of Goliath and later Giant-Man, which bestows him with increased strength and stamina due to his much larger form.
Later, Pym would abandon these personas and take on the name Yellowjacket in a severe case of Iron Man envy. The Yellowjacket suit featured artificial wings and energy blasting gloves, in addition to all manner of weapons and gizmos shrunken down small enough to fit in his uniform’s pockets.
Later still, after the death of his ex-wife Janet van Dyne, Pym adopted the Wasp persona, which gave him essentially the same powers and abilities as when he was calling himself Yellowjacket. We don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of Pym’s penchant for domestic abuse (Avengers #213), but the dude is clearly crazy.
5 Speedball aka Penance
Robert Baldwin was just your average teenager when, like so many before him, he soaked up the radiation of a science experiment gone awry. This caused Baldwin to develop powers that allowed him to harness kinetic energy, which he put to use by fighting crime.
Baldwin adopted the name Speedball, apparently unaware of fact that he named himself after a potent drug cocktail, and eventually joined the young superhero team the New Warriors. While attempting to apprehend a group of supervillains, an explosion went off, killing 612 civilians and all of the members of the New Warriors, save for Baldwin thanks to his ability to absorb energy.
This tragic event caused the Superhuman Registration Act, and left Baldwin’s powers burned out. Later, he discovered that his powers merely evolved, and that pain was necessary manifest his abilities. Baldwin constructed a new costume that housed 612 spikes internally, causing him constant pain. And with that, the colorful comic relief character of Speedball became the dark and disturbing Penance. He even renames his super-powered cat Niels aka Hairball (of Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers), P-Cat, the Penitent Puss. And you thought the 90s was the era of gritty reinventions.
4 Moon Knight aka Mark Spector aka Jake Lockley aka Steven Grant
Marvel’s Moon Knight often gets a bad rap, as many consider him to be a thinly veiled rip-off of DC’s Batman. While there are similarities, (both are wealthy vigilantes who use gadgets to fight crime), Moon Knight is straight up insane. Whereas Batman fights crime to avenge the deaths of his parents at the hands of some street thug, Moon Knight believes that he is the living embodiment of the ancient Egyptian God of vengeance, and it doesn’t stop there.
While some comic book characters adopt new secret identities, Moon Knight suffers from dissociative identity disorder, which results in a number of civilian personalities. Although Moon Knight considers all of his personalities as distinct individuals, his real name is Mark Spector, US Marine and ex-mercenary. Jake Lockley is a streetwise cab driver whose gift of gab allows him to dig up dirt on the city’s gritty underbelly. Meanwhile his Steven Grant personality is a millionaire playboy.
Throughout his books, Moon Knight often laments the fact that one of his other personalities isn’t there to help him, punctuating the gritty angst with a legitimate concern for the guy’s mental health.
3 Jason Todd aka Robin aka Red Hood aka Nightwing aka Batman aka Red Robin aka Wingman
Jason Todd was the second person to become Robin, the Dark Knight’s juvenile partner. Todd wasn’t particularly well received, as his rebellious nature was seen as annoying. To be fair, Todd had some pretty big shoes to fill once Dick Grayson abandoned the role, but readers had little patience for a whiny boy wonder. So in 1988, DC allowed readers to vote, via a telephone poll, whether Todd would die at the hands of the Joker.
Todd was killed off, and Batman would deal with the guilt of not being able to save Todd for years to come. Of course, in true comic book fashion, Todd didn’t stay dead and reappeared using a number of different aliases, most notably as the Red Hood, a vigilante antihero that has no problem with utilizing lethal force, something that put him at odds with Batman.
He subsequently assumed the role of Nightwing and Batman, all while retaining his lethal tendencies. Although his methods are often at odds with Batman and his allies, to the extent that Batman himself has suggested Todd seek psychiatric help, Todd has become a card carrying member of the Bat Family all the same.
2 Rorschach aka Kovacs
Rorschach, the anti-hero and protagonist of the acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen, has more than a few screws loose. Rorschach deals exclusively in moral absolutes, right and wrong, good and bad. There is no middle ground for Rorschach when he doles out his brand of sociopathic justice.
Rorschach also believes that his mask, which is a constantly changing inkblot based on the psychological tests used to examine personality traits, is his “true” self, and that his actual appearance as Walter Joseph Kovacs is actually his “disguise”. He is so convinced of this fact that he refuses to answer to his birth name during his trial and subsequent psychiatric evaluations. It may seem as though Rorschach simply doesn’t want to divulge his secret identity, but his deranged mental state is fully on display when Rorschach’s mask is removed against his wishes, and he screams out “My face! Give me back my face!”
Watchmen creator Alan Moore has said that Rorschach was his attempt to show what Batman would be like in the real world. It’s safe to say that Moore thinks Batman is a total nut case.
1 Captain America aka The Captain aka Nomad
Steve Rogers is the American flag wearing boy scout of the Marvel universe. He’s punched Hitler, been called the First Avenger and… Nomad? That’s right, the Cap has abandoned the shield in the past.
Back in Captain America #180 from December 1974, Rogers becomes disillusioned by the Marvel universe’s version of the Watergate scandal. He is uncertain about how Captain America fits in with a government that the people no longer trust, and he abandons the Captain America identity in favor of Nomad, the man without a country. Rogers eventually takes up the mantle of Captain America again, realizing that the identity is a symbol of American ideals, not a reflection of the government. Or maybe he just looked in a mirror and saw how lame he looked.
In the 80s something similar happened when Rogers is forced to work directly for the United States government, a compromise he is not willing to make. Rogers once again foregoes the Captain America persona to become The Captain. He eventually becomes Captain America again. Obviously.